Is there a place on ELL or ELL-Meta that conveys best practices on formatting answers, specifically in the context of conveying English language information? For example:

  • presenting language examples with block quotes vs. preformatted vs. lists
  • formatting correct/incorrect examples distinctly
  • formatting use/mention text distinctly
  • styles typical of good ELL answers
  • common style errors in answers

When first coming to the site I took the Tour, checked out the Help Center, and looked at the section on Answering -- which has a mostly generic sub-section on How do I write a good answer? and a generic sub-section on How do I format my posts using Markdown or HTML?.

I then searched meta.ell.stackexchange for formatting and markdown, and wandered through a list results. This is some of what I found:

So, is there a new editors information center where best practices such as these are collected -- as there would be on, for example, Wikipedia?

If not, should some of these things be linked from standard Help Center pages like How do I write a good answer? -- or, alternately, should there be a tag or tags that distinguish these and make it easier for new answerers to find them? I have since found the tag "answers" but I'm not sure if that is the right one.

  • There really isn't one best practice. Everyone has their own style. Though, we tend to discourage code blocks because they scroll and we don't write code here and we encourage using quote blocks when showing quoted text or example sentences.
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 3:49
  • 1
    I think it would be great if we had a style guide to refer to so that we could be more consistent. I would be reluctant to suggest that choosing italic over bold italic, or pre-formatted over blockquote would separate a good answer from a not-good answer though. I think the editing and formatting tags are a good start. I have created an editor's lounge chat room but haven't gotten a chance to promote it yet. Maybe I will throw a party and give away a copy of Strunk and White as a door prize ;)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 20:18
  • @ColleenV: Strunk and White might make some people boycott the party‚Ķ :P Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 22:00
  • @NathanTuggy Lol, maybe something more fun but English related. I'll have to poke around Amazon
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 22:42
  • 1
    @ColleenV Eats, Shoots & Leaves
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 22:56
  • Perhaps a copy of The Stuffed Owl? More as a caution to us all than a guide.... Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 22:59

1 Answer 1


In general, don't overuse formatting. If you can make do with a paragraph containing one italicized word and a "short" quote, don't turn it into a bulleted list with bold and italics and superscript and inline code formatting and a blockquote. But do use some formatting to draw attention subtly to important points, define a good structure to break up long posts, and so forth.

Block quotes are usually a little better than lists, but for very short examples, or if there are many options to choose between, especially if they need to be referred to by number, lists can work well. If there's only one example, a block quote is better. Preformatted sections should only be used if exact visual spacing is essential, since monotype is harder to read, uglier, and carries connotations of machine readability that are generally wrong. Sometimes, if there are a lot of longish examples to pick between or that should be considered together, you can use both list and blockquote formatting. To do this, put the blockquotes inside the list, like * > this:

  • example

Custom on ELL is to mark wrong examples by prefixing them with a superscript wrong, or sometimes an asterisk (*). Dubious examples get a prefixed question mark (?), and good examples, if they need to be marked at all, can get ok or similar.

English uses single and double quotes to mark text that's been directly quoted from someone, or to mark words or phrases that are being talked about rather than used directly in a sentence. (British English starts with single quotes and switches to double quotes for nested quotes, such as someone's speech quoting someone else directly, then alternates for further levels of nesting; American English starts with double quotes instead.) For longer passages that don't need to be integrated into a sentence, block quote formatting can be used to bring greater clarity and emphasis. Sometimes you'll need to pluralize a word that's being mentioned; you can either just add "s"es outside the quote marks, or switch to italic or bold if you're not using those for emphasis.

Across most of the Stack Exchange network, inline code formatting (like this) is often misused for emphasis, but it's really intended to mean something you can type in at a computer that will have a special effect — a filename, a command at a prompt, program source code, or something similar. Since we very seldom need to refer to any of those things on ELL, it should be very rarely used. Similarly, there's little reason to use preformatted/code blocks, except for things like types of poetry that rely on line spacing.

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